Interdependence and the Good Society

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 - 7:46am
Photo by Dan Dzurisin

Interdependence and the Good Society

As we Americans approach Independence Day — aka the Fourth of July — here's a modest proposal. How about adding an annual INTERdependence Day to remind us of something we seem in danger of forgetting: "We're all in this together!"

A society where that simple fact has been forgotten is not a society: it's a nightmare.

Of course, I value independence, national and personal. But I also value collaboration because little that's good has ever been achieved without it. And if we did not take communal responsibility for one another, where would we be? I, for one, would be utterly lost without the many people who've invested time, energy and love in me — and without the many generations who cared enough for the common good to invest in such things as public schools.

Here's a poem I love that lifts up the common good, laments the ways in which we violate it, and reminds us that nature has much to teach us about interdependence and the good society:

by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air

and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn't know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.

How do they do that?

Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be

but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,

we can think to ourselves:

ah yes, this is how it's meant to be.

For more on the poetry of Julie Cadwallader-Staub, please see her website and check out her first published collection of poems, Face to Face.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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Beautiful and brilliant. Thank you for the gentle reminder that we are all in this together. It's all too easy to forget in our rush-around daily lives that there is an interdependence of mutuality that persists at our living foundation. Ironically and thankfully on Independance Day we witness more coming together to celebrate.

I wonder how different our lives might be if we changed from a prevailing "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" focus, expecting people to be self-sufficient when they simply are unable, and acknowledged our interdependence and need for relationship. A very wise and kind man I once knew used to say, "People can't give what they don't have." It's true -- they can't, not even to themselves; but by coming together and sharing our burdens, perhaps we could make stone soup that would provide adequate sustenance for everyone.

Beautifully put

An absolutely brilliant tonic for this explosion of red, white, and blue. Reminds me of Thomas Shadyac's documentary, I AM. Recommended viewing for this rainy day, it will send your spirit souring, if not the fireworks.

Our Episcopal Bishop of Lexington KY, Doug Hahn sent these poignant thoughts this week:

Declaration of Dependence

Fourth of July. One of two civic holidays, along with Thanksgiving, that the Prayer Book calls Holy Days. It is meet and right - a joyful patriotic duty - that we give thanks to God as we remember the Declaration of Independence's words of liberty and their challenge to tyranny.

There are some things we should not forget on this day - the value of freedom, the reality of those things which threaten freedom, and the courage of those who stand against oppression. But some things get overlooked in this celebration of national pride. Here are some things I hope you will remember in your Fourth of July prayers.

Give thanks for our dependence on one another as well as our freedom. The Declaration consistently uses plural pronouns (We hold these truths.... We mutually pledge our lives...) to remind us that we are all in this together. Our national obsession with individual rights has often placed us at odds with one another. Let us give thanks to God for those who are blessedly different from us, and on whom we depend for daily life. Make a declaration of our dependence on one another.

Remember all Americans who have fought and suffered for freedom, not just those in military. The history of the struggle for freedom in our country includes heroes and martyrs Dr. King, Susan B. Anthony, and Mayor Harvey Milk. Celebrate their contributions to common life.

Confess our misuse of God's creation and recommit ourselves to caring for the land which made our freedom and prosperity possible. The Declaration of Independence complains that King George "plundered our seas, ravished our coasts" for his own ends. Have we done worse to our woodlands and mountains?

Commit ourselves to welcoming strangers into our national life in the same way most of our forebears were welcomed from foreign lands. King George was accused of "enacting laws that obstructed the welcome of foreigners". Our inaction on immigration reform puts us in the same company.

Remember that all we do as a nation is measured by the Just and Holy One, whom Jefferson called the "supreme judge of the world", whom we know as Jesus the merciful. And give humble thanks for all of our national blessings. None of us created our national blessings solely with our own hands. They come, as the founders remind us, from "reliance on the protection of divine Providence" and continue only as "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Blessed July 4th and God's Peace, Bishop Doug Hahn

There is no better example of our need for one another and our interdependence than to pay tribute to those who become organ donors. My son is the recipient of a kidney transplant from a living donor and it has given new life to him and his wife and five children. We celebrate those living and deceased donors who give the gift of life to others.

Thank you, Parker for this timely reminder of what really matters.